Lois Weber Herbert Blache
Born June 13, 1881(1881-06-13)
Died November 13, 1939 (aged 58)
Spouse(s) Phillips Smalley (1906-1922)
Harry Gantz (1926-1935)
Walk of Fame - Motion Picture
6518 Hollywood Blvd
Lois Weber (June 13, 1881 - November 13, 1939) was an American silent film actor, producer and director, and was the first woman to direct a full-length feature film when she directed The Merchant of Venice in 1914.
Weber was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (now Pittsburgh's Northside neighborhood), where she was apparently an excellent pianist. She ran away from home hoping to pursue a singing career in New York City. After leaving home she lived in poverty and worked as a street-corner evangelist, preaching and singing hymns in New York and Pittsburgh. In 1905 she joined the Gaumont Film Company company as an actor, and in 1906 married Gaumont manager Phillips Smalley.
In 1908 she landed a role in a film she had written called Hypocrites, which was directed by Herbert Blaché, husband of famous early filmmaker Alice Guy. Hypocrites was also the title of a 1915 film that Weber wrote, directed, produced -- and starred in -- which addressed social themes and moral lessons considered daring for the time. These films (and themes) included abortion and birth control in Where Are My Children?, capital punishment in The People vs. John Doe, and alcoholism and drug addiction in Hop, the Devil's Brew (all 1916). Because of their controversial nature, her films were often successful at the box office.
In 1916 she became Universal Studios' highest-paid director, and in 1917 she formed her own production company, Lois Weber Productions. Lois Weber was the first and only woman granted membership in the Motion Picture Directors Association. Film director John Ford worked with Weber as her assistant before making films on his own (CITATION NEEDED). One of Weber's most successful films from this period was The Blot (1921) with Claire Windsor and Louis Calhern, one of five films of Weber's released through Paramount Pictures.
In the 1920s her fortunes began to change – she lost her company, obtained a divorce from the abusive, alcoholic Smalley in 1922, and had a nervous breakdown. She married Harry Gantz in 1926, but they divorced in 1935. Her last silent films were Sensation Seekers and The Angel of Broadway (both 1927). Weber's final film was White Heat (1934), a tale of miscegenation on a sugar plantation. White Heat was poorly received, and she could later only find work as a script doctor for Universal. She died, penniless, at age 58.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Lois Weber has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6518 Hollywood Blvd.
Hypocrites (1915) - Directed by Lois Weber
This is a scene from Lois Weber's Hypocrites (1915).
"The most important and prolific of all American women directors of the silent era, Lois Weber entered films in 1907 at Gaumont, working alongside Alice Guy-Blaché. In the ensuing years, she and her husband Phillips Smalley acted in, directed, wrote, and edited films for Gaumont, Rex, and Universal. By 1914 Weber was a well-known director when she went to work for the Bosworth Company to make Hypocrites.
Hypocrites is an amazingly complex film in both narrative and technique, following the parallel stories of an early Christian ascetic and a modern minister, with most actors in dual roles. Gabriel (Courtney Foote) is a medieval monk who devotes himself to completing a statue of "Truth," only to be murdered by a mob when his work turns out to be an image of a naked woman. The contemporary Gabriel is the pastor of a large urban congregation for whom religion is a matter of appearances, not beliefs. The hypocrisy of the congregation is exposed by a series of vignettes in which the Naked Truth, literally portrayed by a nude woman, reveals their appetites for money, sex, and power.
Hypocrites was a shocking and controversial film whose release was held up for many months by the difficulty of distributing a film with full nudity. Weber's sincerity and reputation allowed her to use something that in the hands of a male director would have been considered scandalous and immoral. Widely admired at the time for extraordinary use of multiple exposures and intrica
Lois Weber, or the exigency of writing
William D. Routt
5 Lois Weber and the mirror of the cinema
Lois Weber's imaginary movie was called Life's mirror. It did not work the way an ordinary mirror does, however. Instead of reflecting the characters in Idle wives, it reconciled them: what they saw in the movie was not what they were but what they could be. The title of this imaginary film and the way it works suggests quite strongly that Weber's idea of the cinema was derived from the commonplace Aristotelianism of her day. We may suppose that she believed that true art holds a mirror up to nature - it is an imitation of life - but the artful image in the mirror is refined and heightened: it shows the essential - crafting a moral or a conclusion. The cinema is peculiarly susceptible to this kind of interpretation because of its apparently close relation to reality (it "reflects" what is before the camera like a mirror) and its less obvious malleability.
This idea of the mirror of the cinema is based upon the deception of appearances, that is, upon the fundamental notion that real things stand for something else, more real than they are. The cinematic mirror is intended to reflect that hyperreality through the mundane reality of appearance. Mirrored structures allow a progressive building up of what is truly to be shown by using analogy to strip away the inconsequential from appearance.
Such an understanding amounts to a fundamental instruction for cinematic writing by defining in advance the essential nature of film language. "Good directing" comes to involve respecting and enhancing the properties of the cinematic mirror - and this would seem to be precisely what Weber set out to do. Her films are made of parallel, mirrored, constructions which radiate out from a central character or a group of characters. Such structures seep into and subtly deform the linear impetus of the narrative into a spiral, for in this kind of universe stories only end to begin again. If one character does something to protect his car from the rain, other characters will soon be engaged in the same activity, but in a significantly different manner. The fate of any character cannot be comfortably settled until each one of its aspects has been similarly finished off. In The blot this involves gathering all the young men in the movie into one place at the end and paying each due attention so that the film forgets no one.
In order to produce an artful mirror through film making, as in other arts, it would seem that the obdurate materiality of the medium must be thoroughly tamed and trained lest it show too much. This surely accounts for the urgency of Lois Weber's need to control all aspects of film production. But it is just this materiality that is the cinema's own urgent truthfulness. The camera cannot lie, only those who wield it can. Thus the need for a preacher - a woman, a figure of unblemished honesty, l'ouverture - to take on that role. Two different truths are at war here - and neither can afford to recognise their difference or, indeed, that they have anything to fight about.
To illustrate this exigency of cinematic writing I can think of nothing more elevated than Harpo mirroring Groucho in Duck soup. Together they dance the phases of writing Blanchot describes. And in the end, as we know from the beginning inevitably it must, a mistake reveals that the mirror is no mirror and all bets are off. That is, material reality, here the same as writing "outside language", overpowers its "idealist" variant.
Let me try to describe the same process as it plays itself out over four moments in Lois Weber's Hypocrites.
 There is some doubt about the correct title of this film. Anthony Slide, Kevin Brownlow and the scholars of the American Film Institute have called it The hypocrites. At least one surviving publicity still is labelled Hypocrites!. I take the title from the opening credits of the 16mm print currently circulated from the Australian National Film Collection by Cinemedia Australia and which has provided the basis for the research for this article. That print was struck from a 35mm print originally held in the Australian National Film Archive which is the single most complete original print of the film and is, I think, of the earliest release (1915). The same title is used on the videotape restoration produced recently by Jessica Rosner for Kino On Video, which makes use of material from the later (1916) release version as well as the Australian material. Both these sources also correct both Slide's and the AFI's divergently inaccurate plot summaries.
At the beginning of the film a photograph of Lois Weber appears immediately following the last written credit, "BOSWORTH Inc. presents HYPOCRITES written and produced by LOIS WEBER Copyright 1914 by Bosworth (Inc)".
Hypocrites: portrait of the author
This image acts as a kind of confirmation of what we have just read. But it is also, of course, A Portrait Of The Author. Written testimony to its authenticity is inscribed on its surface - "Yours, Sincerely Lois Weber". It is a picture of a Woman, an authorising woman - one who writes and produces. But it is also a picture of a particular type of authorising woman, one who unmistakably embodies the authority of respectability. More than that, one who openly dedicates herself to us, one who urges her sincerity upon us in writing, as if we could not see it in her mothering gaze.
Here then, is this film's first figuration of its director, a figuration heavily weighted with moralising significance. It will need all of that significance to counterweight the cinematic image it is about to display.
After an epigraph ("What does the world, told a truth, but lie the more' Browning") and an intriguing, and disingenuously simple, display of the characters we are to see in dual roles, another title introduces a prologue, "The Gates of Truth". These gates are shown, and in a moment, Truth enters.
 In the new video restoration of the film, which uses some material from the version re-released in 1916, these words from Browning are dissolved over Weber's portrait, over-writing and further authorising it.
Hypocrites: naked Truth
In view of all I have written here (and leaving out of consideration the way in which Hypocrites itself deploys this figure), there can be no doubt that this naked woman with a mirror is also on some level a figuration of the cinema - or, at least, of the cinema as Lois Weber intends it. But there can also be no doubt that this figure raises questions of another order for film maker and audience alike.
In 1974 Kathleen Karr described a device used in exploitation cinema that she called "the square-up" and which she had traced back to 1912. The square-up at its crudest and most direct is a "prefatory moralistic statement of apology for contemplating the discussion of nefarious subjects" (108).
 Kathleen Karr, "The long square-up: exploitation trends in the silent film", Journal of popular film 3, no. 2 (Spring 1974): 107-128. Further references to this article appear as page numbers in brackets in the text.
The "square-up" soon became a stock element of practically every example of the silent exploitation film. It was very much of a protective device and most interestingly foreshadowed the Supreme Court's later guide-line decision on obscenity (regarding Lady Chatterly's Lover) that in order to be obscene a work must be "utterly without redeeming social importance." (109)
Later in the piece, Karr quoted a classic square-up, prefaced to Weber's 1916 feature, Where are my children? (124-125). Given the history of the device, I think that there can be no doubt that Weber's Portrait Of The Author in Hypocrites is intended to square-up the figure of Truth, whose nakedness is both a literal and a symbolic issue for the film and who appears many times in it.
Thus the sign of the female enunciator, a sign exploited even more elaborately later by Mrs Wallace Reid in films like The red kimono (1925), is also a sign intended to cleanse the film, to absolve it of prurient intent. The image of Woman, conventionally only a figure created by and for male lust, acts to purge that lust before it has even been called forth. It is as though the authorising photograph of the cinematic writer as Woman is intended to be seen in front of the metaphorical figure of naked Truth as Woman, a lens or an opening through which the truth of Truth can be discerned. Put in another way, the introductory picture is far more than simply a sign of a woman's authorship. It is a sign which, however naively, proclaims that a woman's vision - a woman's cinema - is different from a man's.
 For what it is worth, Weber and Smalley are credited as working together on five of the seven Bosworth films. Weber alone is credited on It's no laughing matter and Hypocrites, released within a week of each other.
And such devices change the ontology of the images we see, animating them differently. A sermon does not merely preach about the wickedness of the world, it reflects that wickedness back upon its auditors - making them party to it, making them guilty as it offers its vision as a means to repentance. Which is to say that the sermon's re-vision of the world, its deregulation of the senses, is the first step to changing the state of those who hear it. A sermon turns pleasure into displeasure and vice-versa. In a sermon, the sense of the world shifts, and the old world makes new sense.
Or does it? Can l'ouverture which Weber makes of herself force everyone to see through Margaret Edwards, the naked woman on the surface? The answers are obvious, and were obvious even when the film was released, as the controversy around it demonstrated. The obstinate, everyday materiality of the cinema, its goes-without-saying literalness, registered the naked Margaret Edwards as the naked Margaret Edwards. Those who were so minded could abstract that specific, meaningless image from the sensational figure Weber intended to make it mean and instead create their own lubricous figures, equally, if not more, meaningful and sensational.
This means that the cinematic author whose rather smug and serene portrait underwrites the film turns out to be something of a pathetic or tragic figure after all. And indeed, as the figure of the Truth-teller enters the diegesis - which is to say, as the narrative begins - the haunted futility of its mission becomes apparent.
Hypocrites: the truth-teller
This figure is a man. Weber has unsexed herself in a commonplace way, as she did in describing what a director does - but also to rather more drastic ends, as we shall see in due course.
That this figure is nonetheless at least partly intended to stand for the director herself is apparent from what it is doing in its first appearance: preaching a sermon to a more or less inattentive or discomfited audience. Moreover, the written text of the sermon (Matthew 23.28) has preceded the minister himself, summoning the scene and his presence in it, as the line from The ring and the book summons the figure of Truth. This is a figure of words or of writing, a cypher, a trope - not intended to read as itself (indeed the character has no name, only a title).
 This is not the case in the restored video version, in which we see the minister preaching before we know the text of his sermon, but it is the case in the 16mm print based on the version found in Australia.
This scene of speaker and audience recurs nightmarishly in Weber's work. The blot opens with an emaciated, dedicated older man speaking to (teaching) an audience of inattentive younger men. In Too wise wives society women are shown attending a political lecture given by a man to whom they pay no real attention. In The hand that rocks the cradle (originally titled Is a woman a person?), campaigners for birth control, one of whom is played by Weber herself, are arrested before they can complete their speeches. In each of these figurations, words fall on deafened ears, a speaker's gift is scorned or balked. The compounded vision is one of infernal torment that surely would be mete only for the most notorious sinners of classical mythology.
In Hypocrites the minister turns from his hypocritical congregation to the visionary pursuit, and capture, of Truth herself. "Since my people will not come to you, come to my people," he importunes. In his vision, he brings Truth back into the world, but not as an object of display - rather, as the means by which he is enabled to see beneath outward appearance and into inner Being. Under his instruction Truth holds her mirror up to a list of everyday scenes that might have found a place in Borges' Chinese encylopaedia:
* The mote in the eye
* The home
and Truth's mirror shows the hypocrisy of each, displaying to him, and to us, the invisible evil behind the bland surface of convention. In the simplest possible fashion, life's mirror, the cinema, has been passed from the director to her surrogate in the text - along with the author's mission to expose what cannot otherwise be seen. The minister then moves through life like a television reporter shadowed by Truth in the role of his video camera operator: in a circuit our eyes, his eyes, her eyes.
And there is no scene that is not evil, there is nothing ordinary behind the ordinary - only deception, corruption, deception, sensation: lurid, all-too-lurid figures. This reflected world cannot satisfy the desire of one who has seen Truth as she is. Such a soul can find peace only the realms of Truth herself, behind the gates where all the unborn babies live. Thus the minister dies and the hypocrisy of the world lives on.
 Such a gate is apparently figured at several points in Where are my children? See the discussion of the film in Kevin Brownlow's Behind the mask of innocence (New York: Knopf 1990), 50-55.
Hypocrites: "but lie the more"
In the list of scenes in which hypocrisy is revealed in the mirror of Truth, one is marked by its titular difference from the rest. "The mote in the eye" is no clear kin of "Society" or "Modesty", and that is because the hypocrisy that it figures is of a radically different order.
Each of the scenes has re-visioned members of the minister's congregation, representatives of mundane hypocrisy: a rich man, a society woman, a pretty young woman, a philanderer, a young family. These are the people faced by the minister in the opening scene - those at whom he gazes and who return his gaze. The object of "The mote in the eye", although also in the church, is not someone at whom the minister looks. Rather, from the choir stalls behind and to one side, she looks at him. She looks at him in adoration. Throughout his vision, she goes where he goes. In a long allegorical sequence set in mediaeval times, she continues to gaze, enraptured, at him and at the figure of Truth that he sets before the people.
And this scene exposes the hypocrisy of her seeing, the mote in her eye (but not the beam in his). If it had not been obvious before, in this scene it becomes obvious that the shape of Truth's mirror is the outline of an eye - for what the mirror now reflects is another eye, the voyeuristic eye of this woman, an eye that gazes in a circuit of her eye, his eye, truth's eye, our eye.
But something (not a mote, I think) is also reflected in her eye. Her eye is also a mirror, a mirror now one with the mirror of Truth. But her eye is not a blank. There is something caught by the cinema in it. As the figure of naked Truth dissolves away, it begins to reflect (inadvertently?) a motion picture camera and a man cranking the camera. Her eye shows the cinema where we know truth to be.
Hypocrites: the beam
Almost before that reflection has been fully absorbed (and certainly before one can decide whether it is "deliberate" or a "mistake"), another image is superimposed upon this eye that reflects the truth, that is the mote. It is the face of the minister, and it is not unlike a skull.
Hypocrites: the mote
When he recognises the image in her eye, the minister gestures his revulsion and departs with Truth and the mirror, leaving her alone, looking at nothing.
There can be no doubt that he is the mote in the eye that hinders her sight. Her hypocrisy has been to pretend to love the Truth when she loves only him. In effect he spurns her because she has misrecognised him, mistaken the outward form of a man for the inward, invisible aspiration, the body for the spirit, nakedness for Truth. And if in some way she stands for all of us in the audience, he and Lois Weber spurn us too, insofar as our love for her cinema of truth, for the cinema, is only, as it is in my case at least, a love for what it is and not for what it would like to be.
But it is somewhat harder to reflect on the image of the camera operator we have seen - the later-to-be-famous man with a movie camera (who is also reflected in a woman's eyes in Vertov's film of that name). In two senses the camera operator (Dal Clawson? George W. Hill?) is another figuration of the cinema. First, he figures the cinema in his aspect (the camera), as the figure of Truth does in hers (nakedness). Second, his appearance is a result of the materiality of cinema, throwing us outside idealist and moralising language just as Margaret Edwards throws us outside language with her body that cannot be inscribed.
If this is an accident - if it is, as I take it, an instance of a naive relation with the cinema - it is nonetheless, and inescapably, a moment in which a certain sublimity is articulated that "good directing" can never know, a moment in which the world is made sense by the cinema, sense manifests, rises up, is born to presence, where before there was only appearance and meaning. It is a moment one lives for.
Where is the camera? The image of the minister is in the choir singer's eye because it is in her heart. The image of the camera seems to be in her eye because it is in the mirror - the camera is the heart of the mirror. Yet the point of Hypocrites is at least partly that Truth has no human heart, no place for love. Here, as elsewhere (in Lacan for example), the mirror is cold, lacking feeling, as austere as the rejecting minister who does not recognise the beam in his own eye. And indeed, the heart of this mirror is not human, but a machine, a mechanical heart whose beating corresponds to the frames of the film it registers without compassion.
In this image, the minister overlays the machine: an unfeeling other overlays another, equally unfeeling, and equally dedicated - in the middle of what can only be described as a pool of love. The love spills out, beyond the face at its focal point, suffusing the machine, contaminating the mirror. And we can see what the minister cannot. That he is driven by his lack, as she is by hers. That his ascetic desire for absolute nakedness dooms him in this world - and that what might redeem him to life is here, exscribing its finite longing in the mirror, transforming the mirror and the cinema itself if only for a moment.
A blink of her eye.
ALICE GUY BLACHE CINEMA PIONEER WHITNEY MUSEUM 2009